My time back in Virginia, Utah and New York several weeks ago was jam-packed with work. In fact, my old bones are still recovering. Not only did I get a chance to attend the ever stellar UniversityAPI conference in Provo, Utah (more on that in my next post), but I also got to spend a lot of dedicated time working on Reclaim Arcade, which is quickly becomes like those objects in the sideview mirror that are far closer than they appear. As Tim the weekend before, I spent a lot of time driving to pickup video games. I went to King, North Carolina to pickup an all-time favorite of mine, a stand-up version of Gyruss.* And I have the picture of a high score to prove it:
The following weekend I drove to a suburb of Pittsburgh to pickup Street Fight II Championship Edition. It was a bit of trucking, but I enjoyed it—especially when I’m hauling an 80s arcade treasure in the trunk.
Currently in a Chick-Fil-A parking lot somewhere deep in North Carolina with a supine 1980s arcade game in the back of my over-sized SUV. Safe to say I am back in the US of A and loving it! pic.twitter.com/IQpdz0Uj4w
— Jim Groom (@jimgroom) January 23, 2020
Between these two road trips there was shopping to do in preparation for Reclaim Arcade’s first official public appearance at the Frosty Brew Thru in Fredericksburg. I hit the jackpot on the first try at the Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore in the strip mall right next to ours. I came across a couch combo that even rivals the original living room sofa at UMW.
And $200 later we have the bones of Reclaim Arcade’s living room. We got the coffee and side tables on Facebook a week earlier, and with the couch set we were in very good shape. The last piece was some shelving and a rug, both of which we also found at ReStore. And like that we have the living room console 2.0 in less than two days, I have to say I was shocked how quickly, cheaply, and quite frankly perfectly this came together.
The rug is the only piece I would change right now, and if I can get my hands on a primo furniture TV piece the shelves can be re-purposed, but all-in-all I am very happy with this setup. Even the $10 lamp is perfect with the heavy-duty, plastic corrugated shade replete with a cigarette smoke-stained patina. It’s damn good! And all this was done by Thursday (I flew in Monday evening), just in time for us to head over to the Fredericksburg Fairgrounds the following day and setup for the Frosty Brew Thru.
One of the things we quickly learned from the Frosty Brew Thru is that moving six OG 80s arcade games and two pinball machines, not to mention a full blown living room setup, is no small order. Tim has become a pro at moving arcade machines, and we’ve invested in a serial appliance dolly to lighten the load, but there’s no getting around the fact that one of these things can be a royal pain in the ass to move, no less eight. That was good to experience though, because it quickly dissuaded Tim and I from planning any other short-lived pop-up events before we open. And while it was a lot of work for a one-day event, it was fun to feature a few gems from our collection such as Centipede (our very first), Ms Pac-man, Donkey Kong, Joust, X-men, Mortal Kombat II, and our newer pinball acquisitions Stranger Things and Ghostbusters.
More than anything though, people’s reactions to both the living room and the games were very, very encouraging. This is why we are doing this whole thing, we want to create a cool place in Fredericksburg for folks to hang out, and the reaction throughout the day reminded us what all the work is for. And it is worth noting Meredith took time out of her weekend to join us throughout the day—reclaim4life.
Another important thing we realized, which is a topic we would come back to during our tour of arcade bars in Utah, was that even with some of our newest and most mint games, stuff stops working. In particular we were having issues throughout the day with the coin mechs, and we quickly had nightmare visions of running around Reclaim Arcade refunding tokens and quarters all day. At the end of the day the Frosty Brew Thru was a good opportunity to get the idea of Reclaim Arcade out locally, get a realistic sense of the overhead of pop-up events like this, reaffirm our raison d’être for starting Reclaim Arcade, as well as an opportunity to kick the tires on what the day-to-day might be like. So all-in-all it was very much worth it, and despite being exhausted the next day (Sunday) saw me driving at 4 AM to Pittsburgh to get a Street Fighter II machine, no pleasure but arcade pain.
That Tuesday we headed out for Utah to attend the uAPI conference as mentioned above, but we also took the time to visit a couple of arcade bars in the area. The first night we headed to Quarters in Salt Lake City, which was a full bar with no food. The games took actual quarters (I guess they would have to with a name like that) and the selection was decent. I appreciated how mint the classic 80s arcade games were though. Their Moon Patrol was gorgeous (and the Pavement song playing in the background was nice), it’s high on the list of Reclaim Arcade acquisitions …
I also noticed their Missile Command was quite beautiful. The screen really popped, and it made Tim and I go more closely over our machines after we got back to Freddy.
But while their games were in good shape, the selection of 80s arcade games was lacking. I think of the 25 OG arcade games they had, maybe 8 of them would have made the “Jim Groom Cut”: Asteroids, Moon Patrol, Donkey Kong, Ms Pac-man, Missile Command, TNMT, X-Men, Robocop (though that is more sentimental than gameplay), and maybe, maybe Contra (although on playing that again I much prefer Ikari Warriors). I can’t really speak to the Pinballs given that is not my strength, but they had a good-sized collection, including Iron Maiden, Twilight Zone, and others. So that might be a big draw for folks. It had a Killer Queen game, which Tim and I are still trying to wrap our heads around, but so far it is not something we’re interested in.
It was first and foremost a bar with arcade games, and it had a bunch of spaces for folks to hang out as well, there was foosball, Skeeball, and an area for older consoles. It even looked like they were building out a stage-like space for performances, but I’m not positive about that. They had a bunch of room in their basement dwelling and used it pretty well, but at the end of the day it felt more like a bar than anything else, which is something I want to avoid at Reclaim Arcade. The real takeaway for me, though, was the condition of their games, they were tight and were able to run a fully automated cash business on the games alone, and in the two hours we were there we didn’t lose a quarter or see a game out of order—that is definitely something worth noting. The games at the Circuit in Richmond were not nearly as well taken care of in my experience.
After the uAPI conference ended Tim and I decided to take a road trip from Provo to Roy, Utah to visit another arcade in the Salt Lake area, namely Flynn’s Retrocade. It’s interesting to me how different the various arcades popping up truly are. For example, Flynn’s was an arcade first and foremost, there was no alcohol or food (they can order a pizza for you that gets delivered) and they bill themselves as an arcade and soda bar. They had a fairly unremarkable selection of pinball machines, but their 80s arcade cabinets were awesome. It was a very impressive selection and, like Quarters, the games were in very good shape.
The space was very similar to what Tim and I first imagined Reclaim Arcade being: a strip mall storefront with games lining either wall all the way back.
Our vision has evolved a bit since then, but it was interesting to see how Flynn’s did this. I loved their attention to detail, the Han Solo doormat as you enter was a good example of this:
Not to mention the ceramic tiles designed like a Pac-man maze. Very cool!
They also had some nice neon signs that I have some ideas for Reclaim Arcade. But at the end of the day the games were everything. There list was impressive: Robotron, Starwars Cockpit, Empire Strikes Back, Pooyan (a personal favorite), Defender, Dragon’s Lair,† Ms Pac-man, Centipede, Asteroids, Popeye, Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr, Track and Field, Frogger, Q*bert, Paperboy (realizing this is a must-have), 1943, Super Punch-Out, Dig Dug, Moon Patrol, Millipede, Rootbeer tapper, etc. You can see a full list here, but I noticed there was no Major Havoc which I wanted to try. Maybe I am biased about this list because we already have a good number of these games, in fact we are only missing Paperboy (essential), Pooyan (yes, please!), Dragon’s Lair (I’m in no rush on this anymore), Frogger (we should have this), Moon Patrol (want it), Empire Strikes Back (no real rush, it is not nearly as good as Star Wars), a Tapper machine (we want one, but they’re pretty expensive) and 1943 (still on the fence). So, all-in-all this collection was probably the closest to ours I have seen, and having them all in the same room was awesome.
We did pick-up a Star Wars vector game since this trip, but it is not a cockpit, but given the price and how tight a fit the cockpit was for me I am not complaining. I still want one, but that can wait.
One of the things that was really useful about this visit as well was re-playing games like Dragon’s Lair and Empire Strikes Back and being reminded they may not be worth the money. Not to mention playing other games I had forgotten all about, such as RoadBlasters.
This is a fun game, and I would definitely add it to the list. Whereas the sequel to Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, was not very good at all, and it will save me an uninformed impulse buy:
I was also underwhelmed with Contra and Super Pacman. Whereas I dug a game I never played before, Astro Blaster:
So, all in all it was really useful fieldwork for Reclaim Arcade, but I think the biggest thing Tim and I got out of this visit was re-considering having our arcade machines use tokens or quarters. We had just assumed this would be how things work, but after the headache of mechs at the Frosty Brew Thru and thinking through how Flynn’s only had one person working who took your money and then you played as much as you wanted we began to re-consider.
The idea of an admission fee for folks became quickly appealing when we started to think how much overhead this could save us not only in chasing down lost quarters and tokens, but it also would prove a boon for renting out the space for private parties. Switching games from accepting quarters or tokens to free-play is not trivial, it takes hours and hours of work, and if party rentals become a thing we want to avoid giving out endless tokens, not to mention the savings on actually buying tokens, fixing coin door mechs, and providing change machines, which do not come cheap. As we left Flynn’s we became increasingly convinced that having a flat-fee for playing the games, and leaving all the 80s arcade cabinets on free-play may be the way to go. We drove back to Provo discussing as much, and I have to say the dreaming about the possibilities of Reclaim Arcade is half the fun for me.
The next day we parted ways, Tim back to Virginia and me on my next leg of the trip to visit family and pick-up more arcade games. My brother did me a solid and grabbed a Donkey Kong Jr and a cocktail RallyX I had tracked down on Long Island. I think a part of him enjoyed it, though he would never let on as much. All I heard was, “When are you gonna get them out of my garage, Jimmy!” Not an easy chore when you are in Italy 🙂 So, for anyone counting that is 4 on this trip, and I had a fifth in my sights (a cocktail Pengo in Allentown Pennsylvania) but I just ran out of room in the truck and I couldn’t pay via PayPal, which meant I would have to get cash, something a prefer to avoid. I still want the Pengo cocktail, but I guess we’ll see.
I have to admit I spent some of the time recovering in the living room watching The Hitcher on VHS. I also had a lot of fun watching our first donation to Reclaim Video, Strange Brew, thanks to Tim Clarke. Tim is amazing not just because he rules as an instructional technologist at Muhlenberg College, but also because he has amazing taste in VHS tapes. Strange Brew was even more relevant than I remember given the whole plot revolves around a video game cabinet doubling as a surveillance tape/hard drive that foils the sinister master brewer’s evil plot to take over the world. Did you remember that? I didn’t!
So, that was fun. But the last order of business was a check-in with Spaces, the design firm locally in Fredericksburg that is helping us design the space of Reclaim Arcade. We spent Wednesday morning looking over the plans and talking about the details and I have to say if I had any doubts up-and-until that point, I was quickly convinced that Reclaim Arcade is going to be legend!
I’ll save the details for another post given I should probably spend some time talking through the broader design of the space, but when I saw the specifics and we discussed the project both broadly and specifically I was convinced we are creating something really, really special. And I have been riding on that high ever since. The work is real, and we’re starting to feel the time crunch, but we knew what was ahead of us, and Tim Owens is a machine that won’t stop, can’t stop until everything is perfect. That’s why we rule! Avanti Reclaim!
*It really is a brilliantly designed game, and I also bought a cocktail version of this game for personal use given I am getting old and need to sit down more often while playing 🙂
† Admittedly it has atrocious gameplay, but the laserdisc graphics still hold a draw. But after trying it out here I would have to say it is near-on impossible to actually play it, and I would think twice before buying this or Space Ace. They play much better on the iOS, frankly.